Opinion Former Article

NASUWT: Landmark judgement on false arrest of teachers

National police procedures must be rewritten following a court ruling on the wrongful arrest of a teacher.

In a significant decision for the teaching profession and for all workers whose careers depend on the content of their Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks, the High Court has ruled that the police unlawfully arrested and falsely imprisoned a member of the largest teachers' union, the NASUWT.

West Midlands Police have been ordered to pay compensation to a teacher who was arrested after volunteering to be interviewed by the police following an allegation of assault.

The police will also now be required to consider removing the entry of the arrest on the Police National Computer (PNC) and destroying DNA samples, fingerprints and photographs taken of the teacher. In light of the judgement, further legal action will follow if they decline to do so.

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, the largest teachers' union, said:

"This is a landmark decision for teachers and others who are vulnerable to allegations made by children and young people. "New guidance for police is needed urgently to prevent these needless arrests that wreck innocent people's careers.

"Teachers are vulnerable to allegations made by pupils. Such allegations frequently involve police investigation. The overwhelming majority prove to be false but teachers are often deeply traumatised and their career is blighted. "This situation is compounded when the police then unnecessarily arrest a teacher who has presented themselves voluntarily for interview.

"This ruling significantly restricts the widespread, unacceptable practice of police arresting teachers and indeed others when they volunteer to be interviewed.
"On the basis of the judgement, I will be writing to the Secretary of State for Education and the Home Secretary to seek changes to national procedures to end this disgraceful practice."

Details of the case

The allegation of assault against the teacher was not pursued by the claimant's parents and the School had intended dealing with it through its disciplinary process.

The police suggested a local resolution, which the teacher was not prepared to accept because no assault had taken place. The teacher was therefore asked to attend a police station for interview, which he did voluntarily and by appointment.

However, when the teacher attended the police station on 16 December 2009 with his NASUWT solicitor, he was arrested unnecessarily and held in custody for two hours.

The police claimed that it was necessary to make the arrest in order to prevent the teacher from leaving the interview. But the Court held that there was no evidence that the arresting officer had properly assessed whether it was necessary to arrest the teacher, as required by Section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE).

Crucially, the Court held that an arresting officer must have grounds to believe that the arrest is necessary, and those grounds must be objectively reasonable.

In January 2010 the police decided to take no further action in relation to the assault allegation.

Ms Keates continued:

"Once a teacher has been arrested, regardless of whether they are subsequently exonerated, they are left virtually unemployable because the disclosure of the arrest on Enhanced CRB certificates that teachers are required to produce is generally fatal in any future job application. "Arrest can also put at risk their current employment.

"Only around five per cent of NASUWT members who face allegations from pupils have any further action taken against them following arrest. In the majority of these cases there is ultimately no case to answer. "It is, however, unacceptable that 95 per cent have a permanent stain on their character and career record.

"Following this judgement, the West Midlands police must heed the strong steer given by the court that they should amend the police records held for this teacher, and destroy DNA and other samples they have taken from teachers."

Since the NASUWT started campaigning on this issue, considerable progress has been made on improving the relevant procedures, but more needs to be done.

The NASUWT is calling for:

. police guidance to be rewritten;

. training to be introduced for police officers to prevent teachers being arrested when they voluntarily and willingly co-operate with an investigation into an allegation made against them; and

. a legal provision to be introduced to provide anonymity for staff up to the point of a court decision.

Paula Porter, head of the Criminal Law Unit at Thompsons Solicitors, the NASUWT's lawyers, said:

"This ruling represents a very significant reining-in of police powers to arrest teachers, firefighters, prison officers and other professionals whose careers are ended by such an arrest appearing on their CRB check, even though they are wholly innocent of the allegation.

"The PACE guideline codes should now be amended to clarify the law in terms of the grounds on which the police can arrest someone who attends a police station voluntarily for interview.

"ACPO should issue urgent guidance to ensure other people are not arrested unlawfully in this way. "This is a widespread problem that has occurred in many police areas."

Ends

Notes to editors

The NASUWT press office can be contacted on 0207 420 9680/81 (Monday - Friday 08:30-17:30) or out of hours on 07966 195010/ 07966 198894.

2. The Thompsons press office can be contacted on 020 7307 2158.

3. The teacher involved in this case does not wish to be named or be interviewed on the matter.

4. From 1991 to date, there have been 2,953 allegations made against NASUWT members. 2,554 of them resulted in no further action.

5. Only 170 of the 2,953 allegations have resulted in a caution or conviction.

6. The NASUWT began campaigning in 1991 on the issue of allegations against staff.

7. Records show that the number of allegations has increased and that the majority of allegations made against teachers are false or malicious.

8. Further examples of wrongful arrests:

In March 2006, the NASUWT secured a settlement from the police following the unlawful detention of a member at a police station. The supply teacher member from the West Midlands was accused of assaulting a pupil and was taken to her local police station for questioning. She was arrested and questioned, following which a 'no further action' decision was taken. At this point, the member should have been released, but she was detained and her photographs, DNA and fingerprints taken.

The NASUWT submitted a judicial review application against the police decision to detain her and was given leave to proceed by the Court. The police then conceded the claim in full, agreeing to destroy the records, and they paid, to the member, a token amount of compensation.

An NASUWT member voluntarily attended Washington police station in May 2008 where, despite protests from his solicitor, he was arrested over allegations of common assault against a school pupil. He was later cleared of any wrongdoing. As part of the arrest process, the police took DNA samples, a photograph and fingerprints. By law, police can keep these records irrespective of the outcome of the arrest.

The Police National Computer (PNC) had also been marked with 'CJ arrestee', which would lead to disclosure to any prospective employer carrying out the obligatory enhanced Criminal Records Bureau check. The NASUWT challenged the legality of the member's arrest and sought destruction of his personal records. The High Court granted permission for a judicial review, but on 1 May 2009, a few days before the full hearing, the police conceded, agreeing to a Consent Order declaring the arrest unlawful. An order was made that the photographic, fingerprint and DNA records be deleted and the PNC was amended.

This climb down has implications throughout the public sector and will significantly change the way teachers who are accused of assault are dealt with by the police. The decision implies that police should be better trained to apply provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) when dealing with teachers and other public servants. Regrettably, the member has now left the teaching profession after 15 years' service because of the trauma caused by this ordeal.

Stuart Gannon
NASUWT Press Office
Tel: 020 7420 9681
Mobile (and out of hours contact): 07966 198894
Address: 5 King Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 8SD

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